Authorities refuse to investigate allegations of improprieties
Malaysia’s media have belatedly exploded over allegations concerning unhygienic abattoir practices, animal cruelty and breaches in halal slaughtering protocols over the foods eaten by millions of Muslim consumers although authorities dismissed the reports last month.
The Islamic Development Authority of Malaysia (JAKIM) first said the charges had been dismissed by their Canberra-based halal attaché as unfounded. The authority’s certifying body, the Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat Australia (SICMA) claimed the allegations, raised on April 4, by Asia Sentinel, were lies. The Australian Department of Agriculture, Water, and Environment (DAWE), originally said the department takes such allegations very seriously, but later claimed to the Malaysian newspaper Utusan Malaysia that any halal breaches were the authority’s responsibility.
Informants within the Thomas Foods International abattoir said the practices described in the April 4 article were continuing as late as April 22, saying no one from JAKIM or DAWE had visited the TFI Lobethal abattoir since our report. The only visitors, they said, were TFI senior management who were more concerned about finding the leakers than rectifying the allegations.
Thomas Foods has also remained silent until 11th March, where a press release to Utusan Malaysia claimed the alleged abuses did not take place at their plant. However, they have not explained the photographic evidence. A source said the company’s only action was to interrogate the slaughtermen from that section in an attempt to uncover the identity of the whistle-blower.
Anna Somerville, the assistant secretary for export standards at DAWE, has still not explained how Asia Sentinel’s report to them could get into the possession of SICHMA, leading to the interrogation of a suspected informant, his banning from the plant, and dismissal. DAWE has not released any statement about the investigation. An offer to provide additional assistance about further breaches of hygiene protocols was met with the emailed comment that “I am not sure that is necessary or appropriate for the department to work through you to arrange follow up.”
With JAKIM’s denials, and refusal by both JAKIM and DAWE to meet with the whistle-blower, concerned consumer groups organized a joint press conference so the whistle-blower named as Abdullah, with his identity concealed, could tell his story to the public. The press conference was viewed online by more than 15,000 people and led to hundreds of comments condemning JAKIM. Nadzim claimed that the issue has not received enough exposure within Malaysia and that JAKIM must urgently undertake an investigation.
Somerville from the DAWE and Sirajuddin Suhaimee from JAKIM are well acquainted, as they were both seen at a bilateral meeting on Halal agenda in Sydney back in 2018. In a media statement to Utusan Malaysia on 27th April, DAWE stated that “For exported meat and meat products that are Halal certified, the relevant AIO has sole responsibility for the religious aspects of production. Approved Islamic Organizations must be recognized by the importing country.” The group managing director of TFI, Darren Thomas is well connected with the Australian Agricultural establishment, being an ambassador for the South Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regions. Thus, there appears to be much intermingling between the actors, which requires much more transparency.
This is particularly the case where JAKIM, DAWE, and TFI refuse to answer any questions directly regarding the allegations.
Asia Sentinel sent Australian meat samples to an accredited analytical laboratory for a preliminary analysis. Bacteria levels found in the analysis indicate a need for further analysis, with further samples of Australian lamb sent to an accredited laboratory in the Netherlands for a much more thorough formal analysis.
The matter was brought to the attention of the Australian Higher Commissioner to Malaysia without response. An industry insider told Asia Sentinel that Australian authorities are extremely sensitive about safeguarding to meat export markets, due to bans by China of Australian beef. Australia’s Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) and Malaysia’s Halal Development Corporation (HDC) just signed an MOU to promote Australian and Malaysian halal partnerships, with the World Halal Conference scheduled to be held in Melbourne during September 2022, the first time it will be held outside of Malaysia.
Sources within JAKIM claim there is a power struggle for the top position within the organization. The newly appointed director general Hakimah Mohd Yusoff is not expected to remain in the position for too long. The current deputy director general and former head of the Halal division Sirajuddin Suhaimee is making moves for the top position, with the support from certain quarters of royalty in Malaysia.
Based upon the evidence presented at the PPIM press conference, many questions have been left unanswered about halal integrity and food safety. All organizations involved have refused to address these issues, discrediting the messengers rather than looking into the allegations seriously.
Asia Sentinel has been advised that PPIM and Pekemas Malaysia are meeting this week to decide whether to call for a consumer boycott of Australian meat. This is after the JAKIM director general Hakimah issued another statement on May 10 contradicting her original statement that an investigation into the allegations had found no improprieties, now saying there is an ongoing investigation by DAWE.
Internal TFI shipping documents sighted by Asia Sentinel also indicated produce from the TFI Lobethal plant is also being shipped to Singapore. The Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) which is the halal certification authority for Singapore is also silent on the matter. Last year MUIS held a ministerial inquiry into the foreign Certification Bodies, claiming there were no inappropriate practices after the inquiry was completed. These allegations made by “Abdullah” now cast the whole MUIS inquiry into doubt.
Asia Sentinel contacted JAKIM, MUIS, DAWE, and SICHMA for a comment. All have declined to do so.
Originally published in the Asia Sentinel 12th May 2022